When Renault entered the BTCC – and won!

It’s hard to believe it’s 25 years since Renault first entered the British Touring Car Championship with, of all things, its 19 16v model – even harder to believe that the car won on only its second outing!
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Itself this year celebrating its 60th anniversary, the BTCC was in the early Nineties enjoying the start of a boom period. Its new 2-litre engine regulations appealed to manufacturers and, with growing coverage on the BBC’s flagship sports show Grandstand, each was eager to be part of the grid.

A trip to watch it in 1992 – plus the fact that the company’s corporate colour of yellow stood out more than other on TV! – convinced Renault’s top brass from Paris to commit for 1993. Renault had a reputation for winning at everything it did. This was going to be massive.

Tim Harvey, the 1992 Champion, and rising Swiss star Alain Menu were signed to form a stellar driver line-up. What could possibly go wrong? Hmm…

“The first time I saw the 19 was as a development car in Paris and I was quite shocked because it had so many standard parts on it – it looked like a Group N car,” recalls Harvey.

“It had a standard pedal box and a handbrake! I asked why and the Renault Sport engineers told me it was because their famous rally driver, Jean Ragnotti, liked to do handbrake turns! My first impression was this was not the über touring car that was going to dominate the world…”

Race engineering specialist MCT was appointed to build the 19s out of its workshops at Silverstone.

Harvey continues: “When I next saw the car it was a big step on but it was still very high, very soft – not a cutting edge tourer, so I knew we were going to struggle. Until we got to Donington…”

The BTCC second round of the season was a supporting race to Donington’s only post-war F1 Grand Prix – won famously in the rain by Ayrton Senna. It was the same rain that came to the 19’s rescue.

Monsoon like conditions helped transform it into the car to beat and, from mid-grid, Harvey and Menu came through for an astonishing 1-2 result.

Harvey explains: “The combination of a soft car and the Michelin tyres that we were using meant it actually worked very well in the wet – you make hay while the sun shines, or when it rains on this occasion! Senna also winning the GP made it a day I will never forget.

“I also remember Charly Lamm of Schnitzer calling BMW in Germany to tell them the result and they obviously said on the end ‘You what!!!??? Say that again!!!’ He had to repeat it. People were clearly not expecting it.”

Proving the result really was a fluke, the 19 never made the podium again until later in the year when, believe it or not, on another rainy day at Donington, Menu took a win and a second in the double-header event there and Harvey a third.

The writing though was on the wall – having learnt what it was going to take, Renault had already decided to replace the 19 with its much more advanced Laguna model for 1994. A story for another day…